Why can we say "he is a student" , but not "a student is him".

Also, "he is the best student" and "the best student is him". Both sounds good?

  • 1
    You could certainly say a student is he … You shouldn't normally use him in that sentence because you need to use the subjective pronoun. The same is also true of the second sentence. At least if you want to use strictly correct traditional grammar. Idiomatically, him might also be okay. Jul 16, 2020 at 4:10
  • “A student is he” may be technically grammatical, but it is not idiomatic. Very odd.
    – Xanne
    Jul 16, 2020 at 6:35
  • Worse. “A student is he” is outlandish, which according to Orwell is worse than ungrammatical (unless you're doing comic opera) (some might say especially if you're doing comic opera). Jul 16, 2020 at 15:01

1 Answer 1


In He is a student you are ascribing the property a student to a definite referent he.

This order cannot be reversed for any construction of this sort, e.g.

He became a good student.

*A good student became he/him.

He made a good student.

*A good student made he/him.

In the second example, both the best student and him have definite referents. This is a specifying use of be, and the order may generally be reversed with the specifying use of be. (CaGEL p54).

He was the man who stole my purse.

The man who stole my purse was him.

This may look a bit odd, but if we add some qualifying information, it looks quite natural, e.g.

The man who stole my purse was actually him all along.

  • 'This order cannot be reversed for any construction of this sort'. Tell that to the three little maids from school. Jul 16, 2020 at 15:03
  • Yes, the specifying construction is reversible. Sometimes the ascriptive one is too, and when reversal is acceptable the effect is merely to reorder them, whereas with the specifying construction the functions are reversed too.
    – BillJ
    Jul 16, 2020 at 18:18

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